Those Were the Days: A Pocket Full of Change


In the summer of 1958, I married my high school sweetheart, Johnnie Lee Smith, class of ’56. She had just completed her year as the first-ever “Miss Pampa” and returned from the Miss Texas contest held in Kerrville, finishing in the top ten.  I was kept busy being a member of the “famous” Clifton McNeely basketball teams of l951 through 1954 and going on to Rice University on a scholarship in basketball. We had been dating off and on since 1954. Both of us were raised in Pampa, becoming Pampa High School sweethearts, and had decided to get married. We had a fantastic wedding at the First Baptist Church Pampa, with around 350 friends and family attending. That was August 23, 1958.  Sixty-five years ago, unbelievable time passed too quickly! 

Our honeymoon was two days in the “big” city of Amarillo at the Pink Flamingo Motel. It was brand new and painted the popular colors of that time…pink and black! Whoop-te-do!  Going back to Pampa, all sunburned and happy, we loaded up my baby-blue 1954 Ford with our wedding gifts and possessions to begin our new life in Houston, Texas. I had one more year at Rice, and Jon had a promising career with an investment conglomerate just a few blocks from the campus.

Feeling extremely successful as a newly married couple, I got a $60.00 per month “laundry fee,” being on the basketball team at Rice, and Jon made $320.00 a month, starting salary with her new job. Our apartment was $60.00, furnished with bills paid, and it even had a dishwasher; gasoline was $ .25 a gallon, and groceries generally ran around $35 to $50 a month. We could typically save a little every month to where we were able to buy our first TV, a black and white Emerson (with rabbit ears), for the sum of $50.00.

One month we ran out of money before we ran out of days of the month. No ATMs and no credit cards back then. Deciding to look in all our pockets and purses, we went on a scavenger hunt around our three-room apartment for change and found a whopping $7.20! Well, instead of waiting a few days until we got paid again, we had a great night out…

With that $7.20, we went to a great steak house, Sonny Looks, and had an excellent meal, then on to a movie in downtown Houston at the Majestic Theater. This beautiful building looked like an Italian palace on the inside with the opulence of the very rich and famous!   Designed and built by John Eberson, with a Mediterranean-blue ceiling, twinkling lights, and moving clouds (they were projected onto the ceiling). You felt like you were outside but without the heat of a Houston summer. Another first for this Majestic? It was the first theater in Houston with air conditioning. It’s too bad movie theaters like that don’t exist any longer. We saw “Vertigo” starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. It was a great evening out. And we made it ‘til payday just fine! Now, those were the good old days.

So, in my conclusion, when I compare yesterday with today, I conclude…there are things back then that I wish would never change, and then there are things today that are definitely better; so, I say, “Live life to the fullest each day. Learn from your mistakes, and always save money for that special day!”

Gary “Zeker” Griffin,– age 86 and still counting…


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